A Snapshot

Lately I’ve been trying to walk more and also to be more intentional about setting aside my ‘go, go, go’ North American mindset and settle into the ‘mora, mora’ mindset here in Madagascar. Things go slower here and it gets a bit frustrating when I have to choose between walking painfully slowly behind someone or walking around them on the road, risking being hit by a bus, motor scooter, or bike. To start slowing down I’ve been trying to embrace these slow walkers by setting my pace to them. Today one such person made my day. 

As I left my work sight today I latched onto a stick of a woman clad. She was wearing a light blue top and a white pencil-type skirt, neither of which fit well but both were imaculately clean. After living here for 7 months all of the white things I own have turned a dingy gray color so for my walk home I spent a considerable amount of time staring in awe at the brilliance of this whiet skirt as I followed the path trod by her green foam flip-flop sliders. I was a bit in tranced by her to be honest. The thing that truly grabbed me was a short time into our walk we came upon a bus parked on the side of the street. The street was fairly busy with a few breaks in traffic so she decided to go on around it. I diligently followed my trailblazer. It just so happened that another bus was coming- and not slowly. She broke into a bit of a jog as she rounded the front of the bus. I anxiously followed her example as by then she was out of the way of becoming roadkill. As I felt the bus whoosh past us the woman did something I didn’t expect. She turned and smiled at me and said ‘that was a close one’. Ok no she didn’t. But her eyes did. We were suddenly accomplices in a dangerous endeavor- braving Malagasy roadsides. We continued our walk much as we had before our near brush with death. Further down the road we crossed a bridge where I know a group of guys hang out and it didn’t surprise me at all that one of them greeted me with a ‘bonjour, cherie’. Ugh. This woman again turned to me with a smile. I felt like we were unified in a way that didn’t need words. She was a friend to me for that brief walk and never spoke a word. Every time she turned her head enough that I could see her face I could see she was smiling. It’s amazing how simple things can make someone’s day. So today I challenge you to do just that. Look at people. Look them in the eye and recognize them as not just another body in the hustle and bustle of everyday life but as companions in humanity. And most importantly- smile because you might just be the ray of sunshine someone needs today.

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The Value of a Name

As I’m walking down the street I often hear a child in a sing-song voice say “bonjour vazaha”. I have been aware of since my arrival in Madagascar. I’m different. I walk down the street and people know that I don’t come from here. Vazaha is the equivalent of gringo in Mexico. Anyone with fair skin is labelled a vazaha. I don’t feel like a vazaha. When you first meet someone you make judgements of them or decision on what you think about them but those can be adjusted and amended as you get to know them. This label of vazaha is one that is consistently thrown at me. To think- I’ve been through an entire 22 years of life without ever knowing that I was one of these ‘vazaha’ creatures. During orientation we did an activity in which we wrote out labels that we had held or been given on sticky notes which we then stuck to the cross. We were told to let go of our labels. Vazaha was not one that I wrote down.

French is spoken here but during orientation we were taught Malagasy- not French. I’m a missionary and that mission is geared toward living in accompaniment. I am here to be a part of the community and walk with the people here. Despite years of independence there is still a negative view of the French. Some even believe France is still pulling the puppet strings of the president here. The French were the conquerors and in coming here from a third party country it is important that we speak the language of the people we are here to accompany. It gives us the advantage of putting ourselves beside the people here rather than at that level of what the Malagasy still seem to think is that of the conqueror.

Every day is different. Some days the label assigned to me bothers me. Other days I smile and respond to the greetings with “Mana hoana Malagasy”. Hello Malagasy. I often get a surprised response along the lines of “oh you speak Malagasy”. Every person that greets me is different. At times there are men who call to me in just the right way that I do not believe that a response is necessary or wise- especially if they grab my arm as I walk past. Sometimes it is a child who is repeating the method of labeling they learned from their parents. Some are nice to me because they know I am a stranger and not a native here and a few are rude for the same reason. I’ve met a number of complete strangers on the bus who were delighted to hear me speak a couple words in Malagasy because I simply took the time to learn their language and they even complimented me on my Malagasy.

The most valuable part of my struggle of this label is my realization of the value of a name. Walking around I hear vazaha pretty regularly. I passed a group of students walking home from school who said hello to me along with the typical label. The next group of students I passed was wearing the yellow smocks that marked them as students of the preschool at my church, Ebenezera. As I walked by them they also greeted me but I also heard something that I wasn’t expecting. They called me by my name. It touched me and even though it’s a small thing, it is something I will remember because I often feel as though I am just ‘that white girl’ and to those that I am constantly in passing with that may be all I ever am to them but to those kids I am Molly. I am more than a label- I am a person. I’m not just a person- I am Molly. There is no one exactly like me. I may share titles with people. I am a vazaha as are the Norwegian girls, Marron and Julia who also live in Sab-Nam. I am a missionary along with many others and a YAGM along with 63 other incredible people around the world. Some titles are easy to bear and may even be a pleasure while others come with burdens and assumptions. It is a beautiful thing to put aside titles and labels and to be able to embrace something that says nothing more than what you truly are. Tsy vazaha no anarako fa Molly no anarako. My name is not vazaha but my name is Molly.

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Nativity

Twice a week I help out at Tanana Mirana, a school for deaf children. This past Saturday I was invited to their Christmas party. There was much food and performances of dance and drama. One such drama they did was this story of Jesus’ birth. (I have added the excerpts from scripture)

Luke 2:4-7
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

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There was no room at the inn (Here seen as Hotely- a small Malagasy restaurant)

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Luke 2:8-12
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

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Luke 2:16-20
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

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Matthew 2:1-2
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

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Matthew 2:3, 7-8
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

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Matthew 2:11
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh

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Matthew 2:12
And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

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Matthew 2:13
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you.”

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And the full cast at the end of the performance.

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I hope you’ve all enjoyed the pictures of this nativity I was able to witness. This was the perfect reminder of the reason for the season. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

The scripture excerpts were taken from the NIV on biblegateway.com.

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Back to Reality

This place is weird. I think there’s a part missing from the Bible when God floods the Earth. He gave Noah a lot of animals but then I think he took a second look and was like “no you know what? That one’s really cool. I worked hard on that and I want to save it”. Then he stuck them all on this funky little island. I mean look at this. It’s a giraffe weevil. The tree that they live in exists in no other place in the world but Madagascar and so do the giraffe weevils.

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I think we just found God’s stash of cool stuff on this island called Madagascar. It’s not called the 8th continent for nothing and the people would agree. They are NOT African as they will undoubtedly tell you. That being said, this place is truly unlike any other.

And I have a confession to make. I haven’t been in Madagascar this whole time. I’ve found myself taking little trips. I’ve been climbing inside my head and going to the past and the future- in short I’ve mentally been going back to the US to those I left at home. Being in Madagascar is surreal. Who goes to Madagascar? I’ve met one person who’s ever been to Madagascar and that was a week before I left! Sometimes I feel like I could just push on that wall and with a thud it would fall over like a movie set or play background. I’m also in some kind of time loop where it is eternally summer. It can’t actually be winter at home. That’s just silly.

How did I snap out of such a thing? Well thankfully the time for our first retreat rolled around. The group of the 8 of us YAGMs, as well as Austin and Tanya, our guides on this magnificent journey and their faithful pup, Puba all gathered at Andasibe National Park. We spent time laughing and sharing stories. We shared our joys and our woes. We are each in our own communities so everyone had different and similar stories. Being able to listen to others who are from the same place and in the same place as me snapped me from my funk.

While we were in Andasibe we also got to peek into God’s wildlife stash. We saw lemurs and frogs and swam in waterfalls. I found myself looking around in awe thinking that there isn’t a high percentage of the world’s population which will ever get to see the things I am seeing because who goes to Madagascar? I was blessed to be able to spend time in this place with people who are able to pull me back to Earth or more specifically back to Madagascar and remind me of my purpose. I am so thankful to have these people so it’s only fitting that they were the ones I spent my Thanksgiving with.

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Normal

Well I’ve had some writer’s block lately. There are plenty of things I could write about but for some reason I just haven’t. But I think I figured out why I ddi. I have a schedule and I’m settling into a routine. What was once so weird and so foreign to me is becoming normal. The things that I thought were so awesome and different are no longer different. My idea of ‘normal’ is changing. Chickens on the bus, washing my feet and realizing that my skin is in fact not as tan as I thought, eating rice everyday at every meal, bucket baths- these are parts of my daily life.

I start my weeks off right. Mondays are my day off. I get to read and write in my journal- if I don’t have too much laundry to do. Laundry takes a lot of work. No washing machines here! Well not at my house anyway. I usually go to the Internet cafe on Mondays and reconnect to the world I left behind some (mostly so my parents still know I’m alive. Hi mom and dad!). Sometimes I even meet up with one of the other volunteers. I know that you probably don’t want to hear about my day off right away but you’ll see why it’s important that I have this time to myself.

On Tuesday mornings I leave home at 8:30 to catch the bus to Ankadikely where Tanana Mirana is. This is a school for the deaf and also has a group of special needs students. I get to sit in on their class and learn some sign language and Malagasy with a little French thrown in here and there. I have lunch with the kids and then I head home at 1:30 before I have my Malagasy tutoring session at 3:30 with Herizo, the president of the Sab-Nam English Club. Then it’s dinner around 8 and bed.

Wednesdays I go to a different site in Ankadikely, FoFiKri which is a Christian conference center. I work in the office there and will get to see how a non-profit works. Right now Fanja, the woman who run the center, is trying to find international sponsorship for some programs she wants to start at the center so I’m eager to see how that process works.

Thursdays I will be teaching three classes at the preschool at my church. Last time I ran out of material to teach and taught them Jesus Loves Me. The kids there were really great and I’m eager to teach there some more. The kids that go there are between 6 and 10. I will only be teaching there in the mornings and will again have Malagasy lessons in the afternoon with Herizo before we go to English Club. On Thursdays the English Club meets at the church for Bible study. I really enjoy the English Club because it gives me a break from trying with language. It’s easy for me instead of trying to speak Malagasy or trying to teach English. The only thing I have to remember is to speak slowly as Manda, the youngest English Club member at 16, never hesitates to remind me.

On Fridays I return to the school for the deaf. This time I spend my entire day from 9 am to 4 pm there. Everything is the same in the mornings but after lunch I get to play with the kids. These kids go to local schools and come to Tanana Mirana for their lunch break. Kids go home for lunch and they have a bit of a siesta or break after so these kids have some time to kill after they finish eating. On one particularly hot day one of the teachers asked me if I would teach them some English. I’ve only taught them that one time so far but I actually found it easier teaching the deaf students than I have anyone else so far. They really astound me with how perceptive they are. It’s pretty awesome. After those kids go back to school there’s time for crafts. I don’t mean arts and crafts as we would do in a school in the U.S. These crafts are weaving bags and such. I got to learn how to do this and now have my own project started. Don’t ask me what it is because I don’t know. Bag? Basket? It’ll be a surprise to us all! When 4 rolls around I go home before heading to the youth center for English Club. This time we get to choose a topic to discuss and it often ends up being a cultural discussion. Last Friday we talked about Halloween and superstitions (there are a lot of those here).

Saturdays are busy days for me too. I start my morning bright and early leaving at 7 to go play volleyball with my friend Luc and his friends. They’re really good and I’m always exhausted afterwards. We play until around 9 or 0 depending on when we get started. At 1 I go to FoFiKri to teach English until 3. There’s also supposed to be choir practice at 4 on Saturdays but a lot of the time when I go no one shows up so I’m still figuring that out.

Sundays are family time. I go to church and then sometimes we go places in the afternoon. My host mom has a lot of brothers and sisters and I feel like just about every other Sunday I meet a new one. So far I’ve been into the city for church and a jubilee (celebration) with family and I’ve also been taken out into the country. I never really know where I’ll end up on any given Sunday but I know my host family will always bring me back home.

That is how my days are spent. The setting has faded into the background for me. I live in Madagascar. This is the street I walk down to get to Tanana Mirana when I go there.

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And if I'm lucky I'll get to ride this bus to get there and watch some awesome music videos for my 5 minute ride (anyone remember Psy from Gangam Style fame? Well he did other songs and people know them here)

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This is my daily life. This is what I see every day. The TV on the bus was unusual but other than that this is what my life is and I don’t think it’s weird anymore.

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(Im)patience

Patience is a virtue. We’ve all heard that one before right? Well it may be true but it is not a virtue which I have been blessed with. I’m the kind of person who spends so long picking the perfect thing to order at a restaurant and as soon as the words are out of my mouth I’m looking around for it to appear in front of me. I hate waiting.

I arrived in Sabotsy-Namehana on September 9, excited about getting to help people and make a difference. I think God decided to switch it up a bit for me and give me some practice being patient. My site supervisor who is in charge of finding work for me was out of town when I arrived and didn’t return until a week later. I spent a lot of time reading. I finally met with her after her return to discuss some of the things I could get involved with and found out she would again be leaving town over the weekend. So I waited some more. I have been filling my time with lots of reading and staring at blank pages considering what to put on my blog. I have made friends and gotten to see Antananarivo a bit. I’ve eaten some spaghetti and some french fries (frittes) and I’ve had more rice than spaghetti and french fries put together. But when would I finally begin with my true purpose of being here?

At church they put the readings for the day on a board by the pulpit. I am very thankful for that because I can only catch every 20th word or so with the little bit of the Malagasy language I have gained. While the readings are being read I can flip through my (English) Bible and read them as well. You know how every once in a while there seems to be a Bible verse that just speaks to you? Romans 8:18 and 28 might as well have started by calling me by name. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” and “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”. God basically called me out and told me to just chill because he’s got it and it’s going to be awesome.

The schools here start next week and on Mondays I will be teaching at the preschool at my church. Wednesdays will be spent with troubled teens and youth and Thursdays I will get to spend my time at a women’s center in the city. Fridays I get to have my day off. I will start my Saturdays off much earlier than at home so that I can go play some volleyball and later on in the day I will go to choir practice which is scheduled for 3 but they don’t start until 4 because that’s how Malagasy time works. On Sundays I will go to church. Every 2nd and 3rd Sunday we will have communion and 1st and 3rd Sundays are blessings by the Shepherds (stay tuned for a description of them but a bit of a spoiler: it has to do with ghosts). Most choir members only go to choir practice once but since I’m pretty good at reading sheet music but not solfage (do-rei-mi) and I don’t really know the language I will go again on Sundays. After a bit of waiting that is a sketch of the things I may be doing. It is subject to change but I can’t wait to dive in. I will start with the choir this weekend and should start doing other things next week as well. It’s taken a little while but I know my patience in getting a routine will be well worth it and that God’s planning something really great for me as I start working in this community

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Amin’ny Firy Mifou?

Amin’ny firy mifou?

I told them I wake up at 7. My mother will already be laughing at this post as she knows that is not true at all. But here it will be.

Yesterday I arrived at the house I will be living in for the year. It’s a beautiful house. I don’t know what I was expecting but it was not this. When you walk through the doors there’s a beautiful garden. The house isn’t very big but there’s a living room, dining room and kitchen and 2 and a half bedrooms upstairs. My room is smaller than my room at home but much bigger than the room I lived in at school. It is beautifully done with an orange color pallet and is more than I would’ve thought to ask for. My pink and green quilt is proudly displayed across the end of my bed.

My host family is very nice. I have a host sister who is 30. The mom and dad are very good and patient. My host sister translates for me so I can talk with them because my Malagasy is really terrible. My host dad seems determined to change that though and I am completely willing to try to!

On my last blog post I mentioned the pull of cultures with different attitudes toward water but what I didn’t realize was that I was still held onto a lot of that myself. I’m used to a certain amount of comfort in my life. A hot 20 minute shower before bed are my favorite. I know that hot water and showers are a privilege but what I wouldn’t have thought that showering in the evening was. Shortly after I arrived I went to the bathroom. The toilet didn’t flush. Going to the bathroom and not flushing is one way to make an impression- certainly not the impression I had planned on making. My host sister explained to me that the water here doesn’t always work. It typically turns on at some point during the night and turns off around 8 every morning. As a result, here I am at 8 AM clean(ish) after a very cold shower listening to water drops as my water filter makes water that I can drink. Thank you God for humbling me and putting me in my place.

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